Likud Aims to Block Ex-state Prosecutor Who Helped Indict Netanyahu From Supreme Court

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Shai Nitzan at a legal conference, September 3, 2019.
Shai Nitzan at a legal conference, September 3, 2019.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is seeking an agreement on judicial appointments with Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan to prevent former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan being appointed to the Supreme Court.

Nitzan is considered a red flag because of his aggressive stance on governmental corruption, which prompted him to spearhead investigations that resulted in Netanyahu being indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Sources in the rightist bloc said Likud is determined to prevent him from reaching the Supreme Court.

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With the negotiations dragging on, Gantz informed President Reuven Rivlin on the progress of unity government negotiations in a phone call Sunday, saying that he plans to request a two-week extension on his mandate after the Passover holiday.

President Rivlin has made it clear that he will weigh the situation according to the circumstances that will be presented to him by the expected end of the time originally given to present a mandate, midnight April 13, and make his decision accordingly.   

The parties haven’t agreed on the exact mechanism yet regarding judicial appointments, but it will presumably result in both of them having influence over the process, as well as other appointments under the justice minister’s purview, like the new state prosecutor. The justice portfolio is expected to go to Kahol Lavan lawmaker Avi Nissenkorn.

Nitzan ended his term in December 2019 and must undergo an 18-month cooling-off period. But three Supreme Court justices are slated to retire shortly before or not long after that period ends – in April 2021, April 2022 and May 2022.

The Judicial Appointments Committee has nine members – the justice minister plus another minister; two Knesset members, one from the governing coalition and one from the opposition; two representatives of the Israel Bar Association; and three Supreme Court justices. Seven of the nine must approve all Supreme Court appointments.

Likud expects the three justices on the committee to push Nitzan’s appointment. The bar association recently appointed new representatives to the panel because one of its previous representatives, former association chairman Efraim Nave, was investigated for taking sexual bribes from a judge. The new appointees are expected to back the justices’ choice. So are Nissenkorn and the panel’s opposition lawmaker, which means that unless Likud and Kahol Lavan reach some deal on judicial appointments, Nitzan has the necessary votes.

The law requires committee members to vote according to their own judgment rather than on orders from the organization they represent. But the justice minister, who chairs it, has effective veto power, since he can prevent it from discussing any nominee he opposes.

Likud declined to comment. A Kahol Lavan official said, “The Judicial Appointments Committee will operate according to law.”

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